Lorne – Cockatoos & North KoreaWednesday, 18 February 2015
▲ With some friends we spent a week at Lorne, a popular seaside resort on the Great Ocean Road about 140km from Melbourne. Lots of things haven’t changed at all, like the wonderful views along the road. This is the mouth of the St George River, just to the west of Lorne.
◄ Lorne is very popular with surfers and there are some wonderful walks and beautiful waterfalls on the rivers that run down to the coast around Lorne. This is the Erskine Falls, we followed the walking trail along the riverside for 10km from the falls down to the coast. The river emerges right in Lorne.
▲ There is one big change – the town has been taken over by cockatoos. They’re everywhere around the town, other birds – scavenging seagulls for example – have been driven away. At the house we rented they sensed us getting up for breakfast and assembled on the deck railing, hoping for a handout. Ditto at sundowner time in the evening.
◄ There are signs around town requesting you not to feed them. Quite apart from making them sick they’re destructive birds, if they get used to being fed and then you don’t come up with the goodies they’re quite inclined to tear your house apart, ripping apart mosquito netting on the windows or worse.
Not only surfers, walkers and cockatoos find Lorne an interesting place to visit. In my book Bad Lands I wrote about a bizarre North Korean visit to Lorne. But then most things about North Korea are somewhat bizarre.
In April 2003, Australian surfers at the popular Victorian beach resort of Lorne were witnesses to another North Korean botched operation. Wallowing in the waves dangerously close to shore was the 120-metre 4000-tonne bulk carrier the Tuvaluan-flagged Pong Su, operated by the Pongsu Shipping Company in Pyongyang. The rusty vessel was just a few hundred metres off the notoriously tricky coast and had just despatched a boat to shore. Trying to land through the heavy surf, one crewman was drowned and the police turned up just in time to grab another, along with 50 kilograms of high-grade heroin. The Pong Su promptly sailed off and a comic book four-day chase commenced up the east coast of Australia before the ship was finally boarded by commandos and sailed into Sydney.
Meanwhile the police had found another 75kg of heroin, hidden close to the road outside Lorne, and presumably awaiting collection. Local treasure hunters took to scouring the woods around the resort, but who knows, the rust bucket had probably sailed right around Australia before the Lorne debacle, quite possibly dropping off shipments all over the place. It was all ‘a sinister trick to tarnish the image of the dignified Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,’ North Korea’s official news agency reported. The shore party of four, from Malaysia, Singapore and China, were convicted, but remarkably all the North Korean crew from the captain on down got away with it, including a ‘political officer’ who had worked in the DPRK’s Beijing embassy. Somebody had fooled them into believing they were coming to Australia to pick up a shipment of BMWs for re-export to Malaysia. The final four were released in early 2006 and the ‘unseaworthy’ Pong Su, which had been costing the Australian government A$2,500 a day for three years to look after, was towed out to sea and sunk by RAAF aircraft.